Lone­li­ness as bad for health as chronic ill­ness


LONE­LI­NESS is as bad for your health as chronic med­i­cal con­di­tions, Bri­tain’s top GP has warned. Pro­fes­sor He­len StokesLam­pard, chair­man of the Royal Col­lege of GPs, says fam­ily doc­tors spend so much time “box-tick­ing” that they no longer have time to prop­erly talk to their pa­tients.

Many older peo­ple go to their GP be­cause they are lonely and want hu­man con­tact, she says.

But doc­tors rarely have “time to care” be­cause they are so fo­cused on fol­low­ing med­i­cal guide­lines, ad­vis­ing ev­ery pa­tient about ex­er­cise and weight, and get­ting through peo­ple in the al­lot­ted ten min­utes. Pro­fes­sor StokesLam­pard wants min­is­ters to cut red tape to al­low doc­tors to “treat pa­tients like hu­man be­ings”.

Pro­fes­sor Stokes-Lam­pard said: “So­cial iso­la­tion and lone­li­ness are akin to a chronic long-term con­di­tion in terms of the im­pact they have on our pa­tients’ health and well­be­ing.

“GPs see pa­tients, many of whom are wid­owed, who have mul­ti­ple health prob­lems like di­a­betes, hy­per­ten­sion and de­pres­sion, but of­ten their main prob­lem isn’t med­i­cal, they’re lonely.”

The doc­tor, who prac­tises as a GP in Stafford­shire, will say: “The guide­lines say we should be talk­ing to them about their weight, ex­er­cise and pre­scrib­ing more med­i­ca­tion – but re­ally what th­ese pa­tients need is some­one to lis­ten to them and to find pur­pose in life. Trust us to be doc­tors so that we can treat our pa­tients like hu­man be­ings and tai­lor their treat­ment to their needs.”

More than half of all peo­ple aged 75 in Bri­tain live alone – and more than one mil­lion peo­ple are thought to be suf­fer­ing from chronic lone­li­ness.

Be­ing lonely in­creases the risk of hav­ing a heart at­tack or a stroke by nearly a third, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished by the uni­ver­si­ties of York, Liver­pool and New­cas­tle last year.

Pro­fes­sor Stokes-Lam­pard will add: “Lonely peo­ple con­sult their GP more of­ten, and in many cases their GP is the pro­fes­sional they come into con­tact with most fre­quently. If noth­ing is done, lone­li­ness will, in­evitably, take its toll on the en­tire health­care sys­tem.”

Caro­line Abrahams, char­ity di­rec­tor at Age UK, said: “Lone­li­ness can some­times be the face of more se­ri­ous un­der­ly­ing is­sues and should not be dis­re­garded as a mi­nor prob­lem. GPs should be alert to un­der­ly­ing men­tal health prob­lems such as de­pres­sion.” — IOL

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